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Iraqi Kurds court investors, not just oil

Feb. 11, 2008 at 12:10 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- "The future" isn't just oil, the head of the U.S. branch of Iraq's Kurdish government said while courting investors in Washington Monday.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is hosting a luncheon with the Kurdistan Regional Government, Iraq's semiautonomous three northern provinces, featuring top U.S. and business officials.

"While the development of our oil and gas sector will be critical for our sustained development, and we place great emphasis on it, the Kurdistan region's economy is not solely dependent on oil and gas," said Qubad Talabani, the KRG's representative to the United States and son of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. "In fact, we are spoilt for choice. For example, we have enormous agricultural potential as well as a robust workforce that is entrepreneurial and industrious.

"As the publication shows, the economic opportunities are varied and enticing."

He spoke to United Press International prior to the release Monday of the new publication "The Kurdistan Region: Invest in the Future."

The KRG area has been semiautonomous since the early 1990s, under international protection from Saddam Hussein. Though Kurdish leaders fought sometimes bloody power struggles, the top political parties have aligned and dominate both the region and have key roles in the national Iraqi government.

This decade head start of the rest of Iraq, where violence and political inaction has stalled much economic development, has allowed Iraqi Kurdistan's economy to advance.

Talabani said the publication and event "is targeted at many in the international business community who may have never thought about investing in our region."

The KRG encourages businesses with an eye on Iraq as a whole to start with its relatively safer area. Among the speakers Monday are U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce David Bohigian and Jay Garner, the retired general and former director of reconstruction of Iraq prior to Paul Bremer.

"Our region should be thought of as the gateway for doing business in Iraq," he said. "We are the other Iraq and we are open for business.

"Attracting foreign private sector investment will help us develop our own private sector; this can be a stimulus to eliminate poverty and ensure sustainable economic growth."

But the KRG's prerogative hasn't always been aligned with Baghdad's -– and vice versa -- which is seen in current arguments over Iraq's oil sector. A draft oil law is stalled because the two sides don't agree on how much central control is called for in the new constitution and what roles the international oil companies should play.

The KRG has passed its own regional oil law and has signed dozens of production-sharing contracts with big players in the oil business, though not the world's largest oil firms. Baghdad has called the KRG deals illegal.

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Ben Lando, UPI Energy Editor

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(e-mail: blando@upi.com)

© 2008 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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